How telenovela villains actually challenge gender norms
In Latin America, just as in the United States, telenovelas — soap operas — serve as a break from reality, a moment of solitude with just a television set and a story. The time that viewers spend watching these stories often provides the matriarch of the family with a minute for herself after a day of hard work. Largely dedicated to women, telenovelas enthrall their viewers with a fantasy of extravagant glamour and unachievable wealth. Unlike traditional soap operas, telenovelas are dramatically anchored in love, death, good vs. evil and Prince Charming-esque leading men with convoluted names like Luis Fernando de la Vega Montenegro.
Telenovelas have a formula: good boy loves good girl, bad girl wants good boy and fights good girl for his love, love wins, good boy and good girl live happily every after. It symbolizes a struggle of good and evil with deeply-rooted evangelical undertones.
However, the happily-ever-after stories are problematic. Most of these telenovelas are viewed in countries with a large economic and class stratification. Moreover, telenovelas are based on heteronormative narratives, highlighting the gender-binary and white-centric realities bathed in nationalist views.
In addition to causing hyperbolic drama, villains are also the deviant characters that disrupt the plot. Rather than merely representing evil, a villain is an example of otherness – largely by their challenging of gender norms.
These women represent liberation — they live the life they want, make decisions of their own, voice their needs, and possess sexual agency. Villains break away from the submissive attitudes that society conditions women to inhabit.
These strong-willed telenovela villains have become pop culture icons, reclaimed as symbols of liberation. All drama aside, we can learn a thing or two from them…
The bob is a perfect haircut
Before a fight, make sure to have perfect hair. Rather than sporting long hair, most villains have short hair as a way to defy conventional beauty norms.
Red lips are powerful
Junot Díaz’s wrote, “She’s applying her lipstick; I’ve always believed that the universe invented the color red solely for Latinas.” This can easily be applied to telenovela villains. Deviating from subtle colors and expected beauty standards, these women wear bold red lips.
Wear a wardrobe to kill for
Villains are not scared to show skin and walk with self-confidence. From mini-skirts to fitted dresses, they are confident of their bodies.
People fear what they don’t understand. And villains don’t follow the rules — they think outside of the box and have ownership of their goals. Being intelligent and determined can be seen as a threat to male-dominated spaces that prefer women to be uninformed and submissive — but villains know how to create intricate and effective plans even when riding against the tide. Usually forced into evildoing because of complex decisions, villains highlight how, at times, women are pitted against each other by the needs and privileges of men. In a society where men oppress women, female villains become the heroes.
No need to follow the rules, conventional beauty standards, or social norms. It’s easier to be yourself, even if that tags you as the villain.